Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Seek First to Understand

One of the things that irritates me substantially is the news or panel-style program where three or four people do nothing but interrupt and talk over each other, jumping on half a sentence spoken by someone they disagree with. A similar kind of disrespectful, instant judgment behavior is increasingly common in our ordinary social interactions.

Suppose we are in a small group and someone says, "Confucius made a significant contribution to Western civilization." Someone else in the group is likely to smirk and step in immediately with, "You mean Eastern civilization. Confucius was Chinese." Or perhaps simply, "Hellooo! Confucius was Chinese you know. From the East, not the West."

A polite audience would have simply waited for elaboration, or perhaps prompted, "In what way?" And here the answer could have been that the speaker thought the Latin translation of the Analects that was introduced into Europe in 1687 was influential for its views about the desired behavior of the gentleman.

Too often we jump all over someone's statement before we even know what they are talking about, but based on our assumptions about what we think they mean. It's also interesting that, since criticism is valued above agreement (because it supposedly shows better analysis or keener insight), hardly anyone interrupts with, "That's very true," or "I really agree." Instead, it's, "That's wrong," or "You don't know what you're talking about."

If we were really curious in conversation rather than interested only in "talking for victory," we would encourage those talking to elaborate, specify, exemplify, and delineate their views instead of cutting them off before we know what their views really are. We would seek first to understand.

No comments:

Post a Comment